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Face The Music Xanadu Reviews

One of the podcasts I regularly listen to is Face The Music, a weekly track by track review of the songs of Electric Light Orchestra. I found out about this show when they were on the groups 1976’s album A New World Record. As this was the closest I ever got to any ELO fanboy talk, I became a regular listener and I finally got around to participating by offering my comments for their Listener’s Response episode at the end of every album.

 

Before they approached 1979’s Discovery, I decided to contribute my rants to every track of this album as it was a personal favorite and the time period this represented. This streak of mine continued into ELO’s side of the Xanadu tracks

 

Seems that these fanboy rants were popular enough with the hosts, Eric & Eric, that I was invited not only to write but record a review of the movie for their final Xanadu show. What you’re about to read are these rants with the movie review at the end.

 

The only thing you ought to know are the names of the members; Jeff Lynne is, well, really THE band as he is the writer, guitarist, leader, lead singer and producer of the group, Bev Bevan is the drummer and Richard Tandy is the keyboardist, referred to as ‘Magic Fingers’ in the Out Of The Blue’ credits for a very good reason.

NOTE: The tittle heads on each song reviews is a link to the actual episode.

I'M ALIVE

It's the introduction, the grand fade-in, the opening shot. If you didn't take this as a warning, you'll never get the grand scale that the whole Xanadu package tried to accomplish and this track and 'Magic' were the opening salvos that out pasted the movies short-shifted ambitions. It was as if the movie had tried to catch up with the music but fell short. Just imaging the muses actually dancing in sync with the beat to this thing...(just imaging if the muses had actual names in this movie as they were listed as Muse #1, Muse #2, etc., but you get the idea and the gap involved)

 

The Moog crescendo bouncing joyfully slapping my young eardrums left and right upon first play on my old cheap overly used turntable. The last instrumental break with the sparse pixie dust solo that says so much. Jeff throwing the chorus out of the ball park The drum break that is as glorious as the Moog play. It all added up to a grand entrance into this magical night club and that's all you really need to know for now. It's off to Xanadu....land?

 

P. S., Oh, I'll do Eric a favor and not mention what radio station where I first heard this and who played it. Quack! Quack!

 

DRUM DREAMS

This is probably the loudest rock instrumental since....well, if Pink Floyd ever recorded a instrumental on a rare 'happy pep day' with no guitars and too many of these Moog tise flies. This was the perfect b-side to I'm Alive; after knocking your eardrums out with the pixie dust daze and you needed a break from this sugar rush, you flip this over for relief and THEN you are bombarded with rhythmic drum frenzy that is strangely danceable, if your health insurance can cover it.

 

This was a surviving piece of Jeff Lynne's rejected movie score, yet they didn't take this one out. This track makes me deadly curious what the entire score sounded like; too much? overbearing on the movie that was trying so desperately to catch up? Did they feel intimidated by Jeff's ambitions? I can't wait for the official digital remastered version to crop up.

 

P. S.: I wonder if anybody did a MIDI file version of this? It must of burned a few circuits.

 

THE FALL

Without a doubt, this is the most dramatic ELO song ever!....and that single bass note certainly is the cause of it. Everything hanged on that lone minimalist note and it works perfectly. Then there’s the stereo echo effect from Bev's drum fills, Jeff's filtered vocals during the verses and Richard's pixie Moog stylings. I suspect these little details are the first things you'll hear after you smash face first into a brick wall like Sonny (if he wasn’t so fictional)...well, that or the laughter the bums make when they pick your pockets and pieces of your face off the ground when you past out from the impact. I hope Jeff didn't do research behind this.

 

DON'T WALK AWAY

This is the best ELO ballad since Telephone Line, just the right amount of tension and release and the string arrangement flows in and out perfectly, plus Jeff performance is just right. This critique will sound kind of odd so soon after Discovery and its two ballads which were, IMHO, clunkers out of that batch, but the love acquired sappiness was replaced here with break up drama and nothing smells artistic acceptance than pain from break-ups.

 

The only real grievance here as well as the rest of the ELO songs is the recordings don't really have that depth and sheen from Discovery. For these tracks, I get the sense that the strings were mixed further back from the listener compared to that of the last album and the drums didn't have that cushy thump; it splats which sadly are sign of the future to come. You could get lost within the sound layers with Discovery, especially with headphones on....but here? Not so much...especially this close to Olivia's lush sounding tracks on the other side. Still, you go with what ya got!

 

ALL OVER THE WORLD

One of the many highlights from attending the 2005 unofficial Xanadu anniversary screening in Burbank, CA happened while the entire audience was singing along with all the songs......they got so caught up in the songs celebration that they even sang the vocoder break out loud!! This small quick detail sums up that 'giddiness' fans felt when they discovered this land of Xanadu.

 

This was a pop/dance record very much of the late 60's/early 70's era that added to the level of joy this expressed with none of the genre cliques then-current dance/disco hits o' the day. You can dance to this old fashioned beat without the guilt. I'm VERY sure that many critics, naysayers and cultural gate-keepers where hoping that this (well as the rest of this album) would turn out to be disco for the sake of bad reviews, but when they didn't get what their ego wanted, they just threw those darts anyways. Ain't spite fun!?

 

Out of all of the top 40 songs that came out of this era, THIS was the one I drove my family and everyone around me up the wall with many repeated plays. Thank god for all of them that I didn't have a working boom box at the time. However, when you got this giddiness rush on you side, eardrums be damned.

 

Thank you, Mr. Vocoder!!

 

XANADU

What can top the lush giddiness of All Over The World for a closure?! There can only be one! While All Over The World was a song of celebration, Xanadu is a definitive statement, one of finding your place of happiness. Even though I am partial with AOTW, Xanadu was the top of the heap in terms of musical happiness and utopia I experienced during this time; unlimited joy and indulgence. All the tracks I described thus far in this set leads up to this and there is nothing technical to add.....other than Richard Tandy working overtime on the intro and outro. Mr. Magic Fingers, indeed!

 

Emotionally, what I will say is that this song capsulizes all that I had been looking for thus far in my life; joy, wonder and panoramic elabrance of life. Since then, I was fortune to understand and discovered pockets of Xanadu, large and small, throughout my life. The MOST obvious and the biggest example of this was my trips to see and partake in Mardi Gras, the final weekend of Carnival Season in New Orleans. I really don't have to go this insane celebration in detail here, but, needless to say, I do hear Xanadu played once a day during the festival. I have yet to hear someone attempt a street brass band arrangement of this song.

 

The Mardi Gras is an intense party experience that can get rough at times and it is certainly not for everybody....and neither is Xanadu. Hey, nobody said that this level of joy and happiness was easy to digest, just asked the movie critics who were forced to see this film in the first place.


 

FTM: Xanadu Movie Review

In the early '00, I went to '1980 Night' at the legendary movie theater New Beverly Theater near West Hollywood. The double bill on that particular night was Xanadu and The Apple. Quite the night of bipolar full frontal cinema disco entertainment. The place was packed and the audience was ready for whatever came their way; it could turn into a MST3K audition or actual cinema hell at ANY given moment. Looking back, Xanadu turned out to be the warm-up act of this ruckus night; sure, there where sounds of gaffws, snickers and a loud line or two aimed at this movie, but the audience was largely quite, attentive.....and enjoying the movie, largely on its own terms.

 

…..and that's how Xanadu lands in the middle of all of this....disco films, bad musical, late 70's bloated indulgence, 80's cheese, Art Deco visual genre? The slap-dash unfocused way this movie was made sure as hell confused and baffled critics and viewers alike, but darn it, it has an earnest way of entertaining you....whether you liked it or not. That is one of the traits that added to the legacy and longevity of Xanadu, its heart is square footed in its sleeve and there are no amount of bad reviews and decades of mockery could throw it off. I suspect this unruly mix of sincerity and the reckless levels of quality was the 1, 2 punch that drove the audience to this day nuts!

 

Well, the technical potholes throughout didn't help the film much; the endlessly re-worked unorganized script is weak that occasionally leaks of bad dialog, scenes that make zero sense like the Popcorn Lady selling Sonny McGuire some popcorn (I guess they had to film a bridge between shots due to continuity errors...and are a few of them), there's nothing much going on during the number 'Suddenly' (it just sits there while the cast gracefully tries not to fall off the skates), the camera crew can be seen for a seconds during the Whenever You're Away From Me' number....then there a FULL view of the crew during the rock number in the finale.....F@&)$!?ING TWICE!!!! (It’s a quick peek but it hurts)

 

….and so on....

 

On the other side: there are numbers that break through the muck like the wonderfully cacophonous All Over The World, the inventive Dancin' that represented the movies ambition to combined both the 40's and 80's music and culture, the final number is all over the place....as a good party should. As far as the cast is concerned, the Danny McGuire character sadly doesn't do much, but Gene Kelly is an old pro and his charisma and feet glides through regardless, Olivia fits the role of a goddess very well and Michael Beck......well, let's move on.

 

A benefit of the film's unfocused aim was the much wider cultural reach that no other of this era had. Both music and movie boldly combined elements of the post-WW2 culture; big band music from the 40’s, cultural optimism of the 60’s, pop music of the 70’s and bits of everything else in between filling in the cracks. It was a noble experiment that dared to go big unlike any other.

 

The film was shot during the era JUST after the disco burn-out and before the AIDS epidemic, so you get a good feeling of that particular small slot of time and if L. A. is your hometown, you get to witness shades of this large wide city before the dawn of the 1984 Olympic and a full decade before the Starbucks Invasion. Personally, I got to see my old hangouts on my backyard of Santa Monica like the then-dirty old Venice Beach Boardwalk. On this anal retentive note, this serves well as a time capsule.

 

Finding the reasonable trough between the heaven and hell of Xanadu is perils for the thin skinned and/or demanding tastes. However, if you approach this film and its multi leveled characteristics by one or two of the genres I listed earlier you MIGHT have a good chance dealing with a visit to this land of Roller Skates, ELO and Art Deco. Camera Crew Be Damned.

 

Post script: Before I wrap this review up, I better quickly address a question that has been doggin this movie and yours truly for decades: Is Xanadu a disco movie?

 

My take is 90% No and 10% Yes. The movie and the music doesn't really have the traits that other disco movies were a washed in. However, to make a long explanation short (and that is what my Xanadu web site is for), Xanadu is tied to this relic as if it was trying to escape a bear trap, Its stared life as a cheap roller disco flick when it was sold to Universal, there are an abundance of skates and shots of its West Coast HQ, Venice Beach and you couldn't run away from that dreaded Mirrored Ball when you mentioned the words Night and Club in TV shows, movies, ads....ANYWHERE!! The short answer on this one is: Xanadu! A Disco Movie Without The Disco!

 

If you don't agree with my little disco mixture estimate, go give The Apple a shot and see if your sense of humanity survives with THIS one. Trust me, the audience from that 1980 Night were slaughtered by this Euro-Trash take on disco.....and it was released two months after Xanadu. PLUS it was made by Cannon Pictures. Warning has been served.

XANADU INSTRUMENTAL MEDLEY:

Just a couple of weeks before the 40th anniversary of Xanadu, this track popped out of nowhere on YouTube courtesy of the son of Louis Clark, co-arranger and conductor of the orchestra section of Electric Light Orchestra and there was MUCH rejoicing among fans of both the film and the band! The ‘official’ well had seemed dry for Xanadu rarities since the ELO 2000 box set Flashback (see Love Changes All review). However, thanks to the current ‘bootlegging function’ of YouTube, we got an unsuspected gift.

 

There had been two small hints of this track in the past; a bonus track called Eldorado Instrumental Medley was featured in the 2001 re-issue of the groups1974 album, Eldorado and around a year before THIS medley showed up, The Son Of Louis Clark unofficially thrown up the unreleased Out Of The Blue Instrumental Medley and THIS also was a cause for celebration as the album is one of, if not the most, popular ELO albums….but ANYTHING like this from Xanadu?!

 

The track itself is a surprise and a complete joy! The set starts off with a section of All Over The World (complete with the Moog crescendos), The Fall, I’m Alive, Don’t Walk Away and ends with Xanadu. The level of production may not be as full as the original tracks themselves, but this time there’s nothing getting in the way of the primary instrument here, the orchestra and Louis Clark’s arranging talent! In standard ELO, things do get busy with the audio elements that Jeff Lynne throws in the mixer, but for fans who like to hear a little behind the scene action and want to get the full ‘orchestral’ effect, this gem delivers the goods.

 

His arrangement for All Over The World are more celebratory, it adds even more drama in The Fall as if they were playing a solo, I’m Alive goes into overdrive, Don’t Walk Away has a soothing drama flow without the vocals pushing it over the top (as the original does as designed) and Xanadu...well, it’s Xanadu Overdrive with the strings adding the jet fuel. Rhythmically, things to stall a bit when the switch is made to and from ‘Don’t Walk Away’ but just to hear those strings tackle each and every one of these songs, it’s a very minor complaint.

 

This is just as panoramic and unabashedly grandiose, if not more, than anything in the group has ever recorded and that might be why this wasn’t released in the first place as soon after Xanadu; a lot of cast and crew walked away from this whole package and wanted unused bits stay buried leaving Olivia being the sole survivor to be forced to address and/or defend its honor as she was the face and voice of it all. (Luckily, she came back with Physical the following year and all was well. She even sang her Xanadu hits during her 1982 tour). After 1981’s Time, Jeff wanted to get away from all this lushness as well, but this level of life enjoined can’t be burred for too long and it must be celebrated unabashedly

 

Thank you, Louis Clark Jr.

 

P. S.: after hearing this, I wonder if Jeff Lynne will ever put out a remixed set of original ELO 1970’s tracks without the vocals. Well, yea, I know, but you can only daydream for awhile until it hurts…..

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LOVE CHANGES ALL/XANADU OVERTURE:

There were many unreleased surprises in ELO’s 2000 box set ‘Flashback’ (cover, left) and ‘Love Changes All’ was certainly was one of them! Not much track information was given thanks to Jeff Lynne’s talent for sparse liner notes, but the engineer is co-credited to Mack and the date listed was a bit of a give away of where this one came from: ‘Recorded 1980, Finished 2000’…..and judging from the STRONG use of the strings and choir….yea, that’s from Xanadu alright!

 

Love Changes All may not be much for lyrics outside of the ‘Go on/Don`t let it get away’ section, but, damnit, Jeff sells these words with passion and with the strings dancing and the choir chanting, even the cellos chugs along with the bass in the intro. Over the top ELO? Yup, this was the band’s sound in full effect.

 

However, its the ‘Finished 2000’ part of the notes is of small concern as, by this time, Jeff was still trying to distance away from the ‘orchestra’ part of the bands name so he re-recorded this song with his now 4X4 almost lo-fi sound and pushing back the old strings (many of you who remember Latitude 88 North, the bonus track from the Out Of The Blues 2007 reissue where the original strings where pushed so far back, you can barely hear them gasping for air underneath the levels of guitars). Fortunately, this is only a minor anti-detail as the original record was so drenched with the orchestra and the choir parts that Jeff must have giving up and let them run wild in the last 50 seconds or so. ELO string nirvana, indeed!

 

From all the fanboy “guess-timates” that have been made thus far, only 4% of Jeff Lynne’s original score had survived in the final movie cut of Xanadu…..and this is where ‘Xanadu Overture’ comes from. It is heard in the first and shortest closing credits over Sonny talking to…..the anti-Kira? Bizzaro Kira? Alternative Kira?! Do I need to read DC/Marvel comics just to figure out this conveniently ‘alternative’ plot device!?!?!….well, anyways…..

It is 40 seconds of ELO on steroids, taking the old Hollywood big finish score and nailing this movie shut as Jeff was paid to do, leaving the ears ringing but not too long to make you go deaf, unless you listen to this with headphones on. Not much else to describe and critique, though the much talked about connection between this and Love Changes All is not TOO far into ELO urban legend as the repetitive bass beat and the chugging cellos from ‘Love’ do sound similar. I suspect both tracks are fragments that somehow was recycled from each other.

 

XANADU 2000

Well, now! So much for distance healing wounds of many sorts. Again, we stay with Flashback for this track, Jeff Lynne’s re-recording of Xanadu itself! THIS was the biggest surprise coming out of the entire set as he made many indications of ditching the old ELO sound. I’m guessing that the basic function of this track was to showcase the old with the new ELO and the changes are many; no strings, Moog pixie dust and crescendos, choir, Olivia, no 1980 at all, leaving just the bare 2020 essentials; Jeff doing all the instruments, the consistent 4×4 beat and a lot of guitars. If you love everything about the original, you will probably be disappointed with this stripped down Geo Metro compared to the Rolls Royce!

 

After the bi-polar shock wore off, I got into the swing of things and became glad that, at least, Jeff lighten up enough to revisit the song and, on a certain level, the legacy behind it. I had little to complain about Jeff’s sound at the time as his productions for George Harrison, Randy Newman, Brian Wilson and Tom Petty had left a pleasant rocking effect on me and I have revisited them since and while I was a bit off with this stripped down arrangement of Xanadu, I was still happy with it.

 

This would lead indirectly to Jeff ending up opening his historic 2014 ‘comeback’ concert in Hyde Part with All Over The World and would later incorporate both Xanadu songs into his regular tour set! Yup, let the healing begin! BTW: if you still looking for that old Xanadu Rolls Royce smell somewhere in what it is called now Jeff Lynne’s ELO, checkout the version in his new concert album/DVD package Wembly Or Bust which combines both and new. Not Bad!

…..and just for the hell of it, here’s a review of the first single from the Xanadu follow-up, the sci-fi concept album, Time. I’m pretty proud of this one!

HOLD ON TIGHT

I was on my way to my summer school when KIIS-FM premiered ‘Hold On Tight’ and it was there I went into hyper mode and looking back, this feeling was unexpected as we were into a new age and decade and the way things were going, I was beginning to suspect the new road ahead of me was going to be trifle, boring and stupid with a side order of amnesia...running desperately away from the honest silliness from the previous decade, if not era into pretentious bullshit and covering the dead bodies to hide what they thought were mistakes.

 

Even though the music did very well, Xanadu (the movie version) failed and for the few like me who still have this in the brain, there was a social price to be paid, especially if you wore Kira on your shoulder in public. I shall bore many with the story of me riding a long public transit bus home with a Xanadu OST mobile I had just bought from a record store on my lap for later. It wasn’t a pleasant ride.

 

However, when I heard this new ELO recording, my faith for the future was restored! It was rhythmically busy but not rushed (sure, I would complain about Jeff’s overuse of this 4 by 4 beat 10 years down the road but this one felt fresh), the chorus chirps in with the positive words and the way Jeff and Kelly sings them, the buzz saw sound that crops up here and there to KEEP you awake (JUST in case!) and that pinch of French made this sound from a foreign land...or in this case planet as I wasn’t familiar with the language at the time.

 

Even bumping into the video gave me that old rush of actually seeing Jeff and the boys in action...as in ACTION! with exclamation marks a plenty, not just standing there and lip syncing to the point of mentally sleep singing. That coffee authority/commission spot was a bit of a kick to the adrenaline, though at the time, I didn’t bother with the connection much; that hyper-drumming probably represented that caffeine buzz one gets from a cup. Even though I don’t drink that stuff, I’ve seen grown ups around me go on that dumper cart ride with that black or brown gasoline.

 

When I got around buying the single, the b-side gave me something that not even coffee with additional caffeine pills couldn’t offer me; a non-album track ‘Julie Don’t Live Here Anymore’. Wow! THAT was quite the jolt!!!

 

All of this was an anticipated build up for the album...and it did not disappoint at all!! It was there, I realized that the 80’s version of the future wasn’t gonna suck shit bricks after all.

 

This was also the time I bought Donald Fegan’s The Nightfly and noticed the rise of Weird Al Yankovic….yup, not gonna suck THAT much after all!!

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